By Harold Lamb
Warriors of the Steppes is volume two of Harold Lamb’s tales of Cossacks and other adventurers in 17th century Asia. Lamb was one of the top writers for Adventure, the premier pulp magazine for swashbuckling tales in the 1920s and ‘30s. Along with Talbot Mundy, Lamb was one of Robert E. Howard’s favorite authors and a major influence on the writer from Cross Plains.
Warriors picks up where Wolf of the Steppe leaves off. The central figure is Khlit the Cossack, a peripatetic and aging warrior possessed of a curved saber that represents the legacy of Ghengis Khan. Although he is a Christian Russian, Khlit has cast his lot among the wild tribes of Asia. He is more at home among Buddhist Mongols or Moslem Afghans than in any city, Russian, Chinese, or Turkish.
Not all of the tales are about Khlit. There is a quintet of stories that form a cycle about Sir Ralph Weyand, an Englishman seeking a trade concession from Jehangir, the Mogul ruler of India. The only problem is that Sir Ralph is aligned with Shirzad Mir, a Tajik chief who has been proclaimed an outlaw and is locked in a deadly feud with his Uzbak rivals. It’s a striking thought, and a testament to Lamb’s deep knowledge of Asian culture and history that this rivalry is a mirror of the battles between Shah Massoud, the Tajik mujahedin leader, and General Rashid Dostam, the Uzbek leader whose allies included the USSR, the Taleban, and eventually Shah Massoud.
Khlit is very well represented in this book. He crosses paths with Abdul Dost, one of Sir Ralph’s comrades-in-arms. Lamb brings the world of Mogul India to life with tales of Rajput honor, corruption at the imperial court, and bloody Afghan rebellions.
Lamb’s stories have a great deal of swashbuckling action and colorful characters as well as intricate plotting. Khlit is not an invincible killing machine, rather he is an old man who stays alive by using his wits. He’s also a man who shows his age on occasion, but has the grit to keep on going even against overwhelming odds.
Running to over 600 pages, Warriors is a collection of novellas, allowing for a level of story development that lets Lamb showcase his skill in crafting characters and setting a scene, without an ounce of fat. I highly recommend this book for those who have a taste for swashbuckling adventure and exotic settings.